Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May 5: Rodrigo Y Gabriela, "Santo Domingo"

Artist: Rodrigo Y Gabriela
Song: "Santo Domingo"
Album: 11:11
Year: 2009

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One can easily make the case that now more than ever, making original music is far more difficult and rare an occurrence than at any other point in history.  With so many artists simply searching for a hit single and ignoring the idea of unique sound or creating a "full" album worth of music, simply doing either of these two things immediately sets an artist apart from the majority.  Making this quest for quality even more difficult, the large record labels play much the same game, and visionary artists are rarely given strong financial backing to create their music.  Thankfully, due to dedicated artists and smaller labels, one can find these bright spots in today's overly dull music scene, and it is in these small pockets of "true" music than one will find some of the most exciting music ever recorded.  Among this list of current artists who dare to be different, one cannot overlook the consistently stunning music that comes from the shared mind of Mexican metal-heads gone acoustic: Rodrigo Y Gabriella.  After making waves with their phenomenal 2006 self-titled release, the duo spent a great deal of time touring before settling back down in the studio to record the follow-up effort.  The record they made, 2009's 11:11 blew away music fans when somehow, they managed to top their previous album, which was no easy task considering how uniquely sensational that record remains.  Filled with their signature "heavy acoustic" sound, Rodrigo Y Gabriella live within their own genre of music and their distinctive style and approach are on brilliant display in their song, "Santo Domingo."

In reality, 11:11 is a tribute record, as each of the eleven original compositions are dedicated to one of the many artists who influenced Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero.  From Jimi Hendrix to Dimebag Darrell to Pink Floyd, the dedicated songs each have some sort of musical "send up" to the artist in question, and it gives each track its own, distinctive feel.  While there is a hint of each artist on each track, the songs stay firmly in the style that Rodrigo Y Gabriela play so brilliantly, and they prove that they clearly understand the line between a tribute and a "rip off."  These small traces of the artists to whom they are playing tribute also show the wide range of styles which the duo are able to incorporate into their music, and it leaves one wondering if there is any limit to the talent of this amazing pair.  On "Santo Domingo," Rodrigo Y Gabriela pay tribute to both a person and a place, and the person in question is the equally amazing pianist and composer, Michel Camilo.  Unquestionably one of the most important jazz musicians of the past three decades, it is moments like this that almost make the listener forget that at their core, Rodrigo Y Gabriela remain two metalheads.  Simultaneously, a song like "Santo Domingo" makes it more understandable just "how" these two are able to create such amazing music, as an "open" jazz influence shows their deeper understanding of "how" music operates.  Perfectly capturing the essence and spirit behind both the music of Camilo, as well as the mood of his hometown, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the song is a gorgeous fury of sonic bliss.

Further distancing themselves from their peers, throughout 11:11, Rodrigo Y Gabriela prove that though their songs are all clearly from the same style, they are able to play within that format in many different directions, and the sheer diversity of sound on this album serves as a testament to their seemingly boundless creativity.  "Santo Domingo" brings a slightly more aggressive musical approach than a majority of their previous work, and it is aspects such as this that keep the duo firmly tied to their heavy metal roots.  The fact that they are able to fuse together this background and pay a proper tribute to a jazz musician is nothing short of stunning, and the pair have rarely sounded more in sync with one another than that do here.  One can even hear a brilliantly placed guitar "twang" during the song, one that is reminiscent of the music of The Blasters, and it gives the song an almost mysterious attitude.  Switching from playing guitar in the standard manner to using the guitar as a percussive instrument, Rodrigo Y Gabriela continue the push the limits on what can be done with the instrument, and it gives "Santo Domingo" a wonderfully organic and raw sound that is unheard of elsewhere in music history.  It is these shifting, amazingly complex rhythms from Quintero that at times seem to overshadow the stunning single-string work of Sanchez.  It is also within these hand-played rhythms that the Latin influence of Camilo becomes most clear, and it is one of the key elements that sets "Santo Domingo" aside from the rest of the songs of Rodrigo Y Gabriela.

In an era when simply attempting to make any sort of unique sound is worthy of praise, one truly cannot say enough about the breathtaking musical creations of Rodrigo Y Gabriela.  Proving that the Mexican and Flamenco styles of guitars can be easily fused together with the spirit of heavy metal, there is simply no other group in history that sounds quite like them.  After experiencing the truly awesome power of their 2006 album, one could have easily understood if it was the last album they made, as one was left to ponder just "where" they music could have grown.  Yet Rodrigo Y Gabriela returned three years later with an album that is somehow better than their previous effort, pushing their style into unimaginable directions and proving that there is truly no limit to their music.  Incorporating everything from distortion to a third, electric guitar, 11:11 is nothing short of a musical masterpiece, as Rodrigo Y Gabriela pay fitting tribute to many of their wide range of musical influences.  The fact that each song is dedicated to a different person highlights not only their diverse musical background, but also how the duo is able to mix in each of these influences with their core sound.  Such a move is truly uncanny, and each song is a stunning musical experience onto itself.  Taking a moment to show their love and understanding of the Latin jazz of Michel Camilo, "Santo Domingo" is a bright, grooving tune that captures not only the spirit of Camilo, but the feel of his hometown.  The song itself fits perfectly and is as worthy a tribute as has ever been recorded, and one must experience "Santo Domingo" firsthand to truly appreciate what a uniquely marvelous talent lives within the minds of Rodrigo Y Gabriela.

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